Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Friday, November 11, 2016

A VERY PERSONAL MEDITATION

Over the years, I have written extensively on this blog about a wide variety of subjects:  Politics, Philosophy, Sociology, Political Theory, History, Religion, Literary Criticism, and Psychology among others.  I have on occasion tried my hand at whimsy, and I have told endless stories like a garrulous old man seated by the fire in a wayside inn.  Today, I should like to speak personally, privately, even perhaps confessionally about the difficulty I am having coping with the election of Trump.  These past few days, I have not merely been disappointed, dismayed, angry, fearful for so much that I hold dear.  I have also been deeply unsettled, unable to sleep easily, to do my daily chores comfortably.  My thoughts are disorganized, my morning walks devoid of pleasing daydreams or ambitious plans.  I do not know how to come to terms with what we face these next years, an inability that is made all the more difficult for me in light of my age.

It is not as though America has ever been for me a comfortable or satisfying home.  I am old enough, after all, to have lived through Kennedy’s terrifying brinksmanship over Cuban missiles, Nixon’s Southern Strategy, Reagan’s gutting of labor unions, Clinton’s triangulation, and Bush’s war.  I can even remember when “socialist” was something more than a daring in-your-face euphemism for FDR New Deal Liberal. 

Let me begin, as is my wont, with two very personal stories, whose meaning, if I can discern it, may help me to understand my present distress.  The first is a very old story.  When I was a boy of fourteen or so, I developed obsessive, terrifying fears of death.  The fears were not of pain, or injury, or disability, but simply of non-being, of ceasing to be conscious.  One of the oddities of the fears, which would beset me without warning, was that they could be allayed, at least for a bit, by the comforting thought “perhaps I will die before it happens.”  I suppose it does not take Sigmund Freud to figure out that the fear of death was a cover for some other quite specific fear too terrible even to put a name to.  My parents wisely found a psychoanalyst who agreed to treat me [not a common thing at all in 1947], and the therapy helped.  The fears subsided, although I never did find out what I was really afraid of.

The second story is quite recent, and some readers may recall my contemporary account of it.  In January of 2012, upon returning from Paris, I came down with a fever and some sort of bad ailment.  The initial diagnosis was fourth stage terminal lung cancer.  Needless to say, I was devastated, at least for the five days it took the doctors to decide that I did not have lung cancer.  [They never did diagnose the problem, and eventually I got better.  Nobody wanted to prescribe any medication until there was a diagnosis, but one of the countless doctors I saw did suggest some Ibuprofen, which seemed to help.]

The contrast between these two experiences is, at least for me, instructive.  The boyhood fears were inchoate, indeterminate, and global, as it were.  There was nothing I could do about them.  The cancer diagnosis was specific, real, and genuinely threatening, and my response was to compel the doctors to schedule tests much more rapidly than they were inclined to do, and to start making quite concrete practical plans to ensure that my wife would be looked after should I die.  The diagnosis was deeply disturbing, but it was not frightening, and it did not in the slightest trigger those adolescent fears of death, which have never entirely disappeared.

How, if at all, do these two stories throw light on my reaction to the election of Trump?  Well, odd though this may sound, my response has been more akin to the long past fears of death than to the diagnosis of terminal cancer.  There does not seem to be anything I can do about the election of Trump.  It has globally unsettled me, but not in a way that points me toward useful action.  Oh, I gave some money to OurRevolution, but that took only a few moments and left me as unsettled as before. 

Now, to be sure, nothing has yet happened.  At this moment, Trump is merely President-elect [assuming there are not several dozen or more conscientious members of the Electoral College who put country before party loyalty].  We are all speculating anxiously about what he may do come January, but none of those things have yet been done.  I find myself thinking that I do not want to live in an America that would elect Donald Trump President, but there is really nowhere I can go, realistically.  What is more, all the people who elected Trump were here on Monday as well, and I did not feel that way then.

How am I going to bear the next four years and perhaps more?  I honestly do not know.  It is as though the fears of death have returned from my youth, global, inchoate, unfocused, and terrifying.


If I may close these very personal reflections with a rather plaintive observation, all that can sustain me now is the fellowship of comrades, and to an extent that may not be apparent, you who read this blog are my comrades.  We shall get through this together.

13 comments:

David Auerbach said...

Your psychological reaction mirrors mine. Every time I wake during the night my thoughts are of Trump and his crew. All day too. I've had a racing heart beat at night, which I assume is a fight/flight adrenalin drenching. And, although not as affluent as you, we'll probably get by, in the material way. But lots of people, people I know and people I don't know, won't. But those evil twins of anger and depression need banishing. (And, if I read one more pundit or facebook post about how we should wait and see... And Clinton's concession speech made me think even less of her.)
So, in solidarity, aargh.

Chris said...

"If I may close these very personal reflections with a rather plaintive observation, all that can sustain me now is the fellowship of comrades, and to an extent that may not be apparent, you who read this blog are my comrades. We shall get through this together."

:)

It's very apparent. I can't stop checking your blog once every hour, just in hopes of hearing more of your voice and reaching out to fellow anti-trump leftist that we are ultimately in this together.

When I'm not checking this blog I'm exercising to clear my head, or shouting 4 letter words over and over again. My wife is part Mexican so...I have real fears.

formerly a wage slave said...

Yesterday a Czech daily featured an editorial cartoon depicting a man wearing a baseball cap and holding an American flag, standing behind a pickup truck. He stands in the countryside, gazing up at the starry sky as he says, (approximately) "As an American voter I would like to apologize to the rest of the world because in our Presidential election I decided about you without you . . .

Tom Cathcart said...

I'm heartsick, but I keep clinging to one, perhaps wishful, thought. We now know what rough beast was slouching toward Bethlehem. But we don't know yet what noble leadership may emerge. No one would have guessed in 1955 that a 26-year-old kid just out of seminary, who had been tapped against his will to lead a quixotic bus boycott in a small southern city, would lead a movement that would transform the nation. Or that thousands of other unknowns would get on board, organize, go to jail, risk death, and ultimately bring about then-unimaginable change. I guess what I'm feeling is the audacity of hope. Best, Comrade Tom

Lawrence Milford said...

I thank you heartfully for sharing with us. You are always a voice of reason and insight for me. As a person that, as Bernie said, when someone is hurt I hurt - I currently am hurting. As someone who's brother was only just recently won the right to marry, I am frightened. As someone who is not ashamed to be labeled a socialist, I am energized. I wish I had more to offer in this post, but I am also struck with an uneasiness that is shaking me to my core. But, it is important to express to you and to everyone I see that I am in solidarity with you, I am in solidarity with any minority group that is threatened, I am in solidarity with all of those that want to move our country and our world forward.

Jerry Fresia said...

Wow! What a moment. Thank you Professor and all of you for your great oneness. Indeed, I check this blog more than once a day for a variety of reasons. And now I will check to touch base with my comrades.

s. wallerstein said...

I listen to several news radio programs and look at various online media here in Chile every morning and first of all, several days later, they are still talking about the U.S. elections and trying to figure how someone like Trump got elected president and second, I've never heard or read anyone here, not even the pro-free market rightwing radio commenters, who likes or feels comfortable or is not frightened by Trump. Chilean right wingers who admire Reagan or Thatcher or David Cameron (until he called for the Brexit plebiscite) or even Sarkozy find Trump hard or impossible to swallow.





Unknown said...

One thing I've decided to try is use Twitter and Trump's language against him. I've started two Twitter accounts. The first @ForgottenInUSA takes Trump's rhetoric about Americans no longer being forgotten and turns it onto people and groups he and his followers attack or marginalize. I tweet it at his own account and, for now, Sen.'s Warren and Sanders.

I've also started a trolling one, called @PresidentialDJT that contrasts what a truly Presidential Trump would do with real Donald Trump. See what you think and whether they are worth following. I always swore off Twitter, but I relented in order to try this little experiment.

Unknown said...

Sorry, That is Enoch Lambert above. Still don't have this figured out.

Mazen said...

I'm a computer science guy -- knowing nothing about philosophy, but somehow I found myself on this blog. Reading your blog and listening to your lectures give me an immense pleasure every day. Thank you so much.

Comrades indeed! :-)

Jordan said...

Keep writing, keep forming ambitious plans! Reading your words has been an inexpressible comfort for me during these times, and often an invigorating one. I'm still in my 30s, but I can't tell you how inspiring it is to see someone so vital, in the fullest sense of that word, at your age. I want to be like you when I grow up. In the meantime, I'll settle for being comrades.

Andrej said...

Something worth keeping in mind is that only a quarter of American voters actually cast ballots for Trump. Of those, how many are dyed in the wool bigots? I think we could reasonably hope to win over 1/3 with Bernie's style of left-populism. Though it may be cold comfort, Clinton did win the popular vote. The universe where Clinton squeaked into the White house was not so different than ours where Trump won the presidency.

What I struggle with most right now is the sense of unknown. We do not now what Trump will do. Is he competent enough to throw open the gates of hell? It is impossible to say at the moment.

What we do know is that we have two years to strip Republicans of control of congress. Damage will be done, and extra care will need to be taken for those most vulnerable, but we can survive for that long.

You have often said that we should all pitch in how we know best. I would suggest that the time is ripe for a series of lecture on Marx. I am certain they would find eager minds.

In solidarity

David Rondel said...

I found your personal reflections very moving.
For whatever it may be worth, I've found some comfort (a little bit, anyway) from a letter that Engels wrote to his comrade, Friedrich Sorge, the day after Karl Marx died. It ends with these words:

"Local lights and lesser minds, if not the humbugs, will now have a free hand. The final victory is certain, but circuitious paths, temporary and local errors – things which even now are so unavoidable – will become more common than ever. Well, we must see it through. What else are we here for?

And we are not near losing courage yet."